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Bishop's Letter to the Priests of the Diocese Concerning the Liturgy

October 18, 2007

Feast of St. Luke, the Evangelist
My dear brothers in the priesthood,

Today the Church celebrates the life and work of the third evangelist. In his work, St. Luke paints for us the portrait of Christ the compassionate Savior whose life is the climax of Israel’s redemptive history that continues in the Church. Today’s feast glorifies the Holy Spirit who, in every age, raises up individuals and gifts them with the grace and charisms needed to continue the work of Christ.

With St. Luke, we priests share the privilege of spreading the Gospel. The Holy Spirit has graced us in a special way for this work. Through our ordination, we have been configured to Christ the High Priest who uses weak instruments such as us to accomplish His saving work.

On this feast day, I want to take the opportunity to thank you for accepting the vocation to be a priest. I am grateful for your apostolic zeal in serving God’s people with dedication and self-giving and for your love of the Church whose ministers we are. I would also like to address with you what is so central to our priesthood and so vital for the life of the Church.

St. Luke ends his gospel with the Emmaus story in which the two disciples recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread (Lk 24:30-32). He begins Acts of the Apostles with this picture of the infant Church: “These remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Clearly for the evangelist, the Eucharist is the Presence of the Risen Lord building up the Church in the unity of faith and love.

The Eucharist is the Crucified Jesus uniting us to Himself, sharing with us His divine life and making the Church truly one so that she can be the effective Sacrament of salvation in every age and in every place. The Eucharist is at the heart of the mystery of the Church. This great sacrifice of the Lord’s Body and Blood is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, 11). The Eucharist contains the entire wealth of the Church. Each day the Church draws her life from this gift given to her by the Lord at the Last Supper.

To every priest is given the great privilege of celebrating the Eucharist by virtue of his ordination. The priest presides at the Eucharist in persona Christi. The priest is the servant of the Liturgy. He is the steward entrusted with a gift that is not his own.

Therefore, every priest has the obligation to celebrate the Liturgy in such a way that he provides a witness of faith to the sacredness of the gift given to the Church by her Lord. He is to be faithful to the Church’s norms for the Liturgy so as to be at the service of communion, not only for the community directly taking part in the celebration, but also for the whole Church. The Mystery of the Eucharist “is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim, so that its sacredness and its universal ordering would be obscured” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 52).

In each particular Church, the diocesan bishop has a most serious responsibility before God for the faithful celebration of the liturgy. He is the first steward of the mysteries of God in the particular Church entrusted to him. He is the moderator, promoter and guardian of her whole liturgical life (Christus Dominus, 28; Sacrosanctum Concilium, 41; Code of Canon Law, can. 387 and can. 835.1). Recognizing this serious duty placed upon me, I ask every priest in this diocese to follow The General Instruction of the Roman Missal as well as Redemptionis Sacramentum, issued in 2004 by the mandate of Pope John Paul II. A careful reading and attention to these instructions can only increase the individual priest’s appreciation of the Eucharist and his own special role within the Church. The Eucharist “is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity or depreciation” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 10).

Since the people of God have the right to the Liturgy as the Church has established, both instructions are to be followed in their entirety. Priests, as well as deacons, are not free to change the rubrics or substitute their own words for the prescribed texts. Such fidelity expresses true love for the people we serve. I call your special attention to the items that follow. The Church’s instructions use strong language to indicate the seriousness with which the Church safeguards reverence for the Eucharist.

Concerning the altar.

Out of reverence for the celebration of the memorial of the Lord and for the banquet in which the Body and Blood of the Lord are offered on an altar where this memorial is celebrated, there should be at least one white cloth, its shape, size, and decoration in keeping with the altar’s design (GIRM, 304).

Concerning the proclamation of the gospel and preaching.

Within the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, the reading of the Gospel, which is “the high point of the Liturgy of the Word,” is reserved by the Church’s tradition to an ordained minister. Thus it is not permitted for a layperson, even a religious, to proclaim the Gospel reading in the celebration of Holy Mass, nor in other cases in which the norms do not explicitly permit it (SR, 63).

The homily, which is given in the course of the celebration of Holy Mass and is a part of the Liturgy itself “should ordinarily be given by the Priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating Priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to a Deacon, but never to a layperson.” (SR, 64)

The prohibition of the admission of laypersons to preach within the Mass applies also to seminarians, students of theological disciplines, and those who have assumed the function of those known as “pastoral assistants;” nor is there to be any exception for any other kind of layperson, or group, or community, or association (SR, 66).
(To safeguard the primacy of the homily and the connection of Word and Sacrifice in the celebration of the Eucharist, any reflection offered by laypeople should be given after the Prayer after Communion.)

Concerning the distribution of Holy Communion.

It is the Priest celebrant’s responsibility to minister Communion, perhaps assisted by other Priests or Deacons; and he should not resume the Mass until after the Communion of the faithful is concluded. Only when there is a necessity may extraordinary ministers assist the Priest celebrant in accordance with the norm of law (SR, 88).

If there is usually present a sufficient number of sacred ministers for the distribution of Holy Communion, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may not be appointed. Indeed, in such circumstances, those who may have already been appointed to this ministry should not exercise it. The practice of those Priests is reprobated who, even though present at the celebration, abstain from distributing Communion and hand this function over to laypersons (SR, 157)

It is not licit to deny Holy Communion to any of Christ’s faithful solely on the grounds, for example, that the person wishes to receive the Eucharist kneeling or standing (SR, 91).

Concerning the use of vestments.

“The vestment proper to the Priest celebrant at Mass, and in other sacred actions directly connected with Mass unless otherwise indicated, is the chasuble, worn over the alb and stole” (GIRM, 299).

The abuse is reprobated whereby the sacred ministers celebrate Holy Mass or other rites without sacred vestments or with only a stole over the monastic cowl or the common habit of religious or ordinary clothes (SR, 126).

Concerning the proper vessels for the Eucharist.

Sacred vessels for containing the Body and Blood of the Lord must be made in strict conformity with the norms of tradition and of the liturgical books. It is strictly required, however, that [they] be truly noble in the common estimation within a given region, so that honor will be given to the Lord by their use, and all risk of diminishing the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species in the eyes of the faithful will be avoided. Reprobated, therefore, is any practice of using for the celebration of Mass common vessels, or others lacking in quality, or devoid of all artistic merit or which are mere containers, as also other vessels made from glass, earthenware, clay, or other materials that break easily. This norm is to be applied even as regards metals and other materials that easily rust or deteriorate. (SR, 117)

The sacred vessels are purified by the priest, the deacon, or an instituted acolyte after Communion or after Mass, insofar as possible at the credence table. The purification of the chalice is done with water alone or with wine and water, which is then drunk by whoever does the purification. The paten is usually wiped clean with the purificator (GIRM, 279).

Following the instructions that the Church lays down for the proper celebration of the Eucharist is not a burden, but a joy. For it enables us to enter into the spirit of the Liturgy with greater freedom and less distraction. It may take a child-like humility to do as the Church asks in the celebration of the Liturgy. However, true love is never proud. “Priests who faithfully celebrate Mass according to the liturgical norms, and communities which conform to these norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 52).

I thank all of you for your love of God’s people and your desire to be good and faithful “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 1:4).

May the Eucharist, daily and faithfully celebrated, truly be a gift of life and growth for the Church of Paterson.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Arthur J. Serratelli, S.T.D., S.S.L., D.D.
Bishop of Paterson


 

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